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July 2003-July 2010InteractiveDig Sagalassos

Examples of Early Medieval pottery
Early and Middle Byzantine pottery types from the Apollo Klarios excavations (click for full graph)

Photos courtesy Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project. Click on images to enlarge.
by Marc Waelkens

Pottery Studies: July 8-12, 2007

Medieval Pottery Studies

The 2007 pottery study season of the Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project started on June 24 under the supervision of Prof. J. Poblome. Pottery excavated during the 2005 and 2006 field campaigns at the Temple of Apollo Klarios is being studied by Dr. A. Vionis and Prof. J. Poblome (K.U. Leuven). One aim of this study-season is to define the use of the site after the conversion of the ancient sanctuary of Apollo Klarios to a Christian basilica church in Late Antiquity, which was rebuilt and surrounded by a graveyard and a hamlet in mid-Byzantine times. Examination of pottery types and forms dated to the medieval era (ca. eighth-thirteenth centuries A.D.) will allow built up a post-Antique pottery typology and function of the site, and consequently perceive aspects of daily life after the decline of the city of Sagalassos and its subsequent transformation to a small settlement of village- or hamlet-status, part of a medieval kastron.

The primary goal this season is to define the chronological boundaries of the pottery assemblage from the temple of Apollo Klarios (and subsequently of the divine Hadrian and of Antoninus Pius). The excavations at the sanctuary in 2005 and 2006 gave indications of human presence after the seventh century and the catastrophic results of the earthquake that ravaged most of the city and its population. The identification of pottery of the era that followed Late Antiquity (the so-called Dark Ages of the eighth-ninth centuries A.D.) is indeed problematic. Diagnostic ceramic forms of the early Middle Ages have not been identified in sufficient quantities in Anatolia, the Aegean, and other parts of the Mediterranean world. Thus, the task of the medieval pottery specialist is not always an easy one, as the material culture of this period is usually hard to recognize, while its systematic study has began only very recently.

Our approach to this problem and its solution has been the careful examination of pottery fabrics and forms. A monumental work on ceramics had already been developed by our pottery specialists, led by Prof. J. Poblome, at Sagalassos in previous years. We have analysed ceramic fabrics and pottery forms covering--almost fully--prehistoric times to the Late Roman/Early Byzantine period. Identification of new fabrics and pottery forms in the Apollo Klarios assemblage (between layers with diagnostic pottery of the fifth-seventh and tenth-thirteenth centuries) suggests that the ceramological gap of the Dark Ages or the Early Medieval period (eighth-ninth centuries) at Sagalassos has just begun to be filled with evidence of extreme importance.

We have identified nine new pottery fabrics in the Apollo Klarios assemblage and samples of those will be sent to Leuven University for fabric analysis. This analysis will provide us with more information about clay composition, while the ultimate result will be to define whether those Early Medieval vessels were imported or whether they were made of clay from local sources. Most of these fabrics are coarse and were used for the making of seething cooking pots; new finer fabrics have also been identified in the assemblage and they always comprise closed vessel forms (such as table jugs).

What is most striking about the Early Medieval assemblage (eighth-ninth centuries) and its interpretation is the fact that it is mainly comprised of kitchenware. i.e. cooking pots, and closed tableware, i.e. small and large table jugs (see graph). The cooking pots are non kiln-fired, coarse and rather thickly potted, they have an out-turned rim, flat base, vertical handle(s), globular body, and no surface treatment. The table jugs seem to have a narrow neck, flat base, vertical handle and elongated body, while their surface is always well-polished or burnished, producing a shiny effect. It is noteworthy that open tableware (i.e. bowls and dishes) used for serving are absent! The Middle Byzantine assemblage (tenth-thirteenth centuries) is more balanced, although open table forms are still under-represented (see graph). Obviously, the Roman-Late Roman period comprises the bulk of the Apollo Klarios assemblage (81.5%). The Early Medieval is represented by 11.8%, while the Middle Byzantine period by the remaining 6.7%.

The identification of Early Medieval wares is a new and important result of this study campaign. Although the pottery study is still in progress, we could argue that human presence at Sagalassos was not interrupted after the middle of the seventh century, but continued on a smaller scale (eventually as a kastron and under different circumstances until the beginning of the thirteenth century, when nomadic Seljuk tribes established themselves in the region. The forthcoming study of the excavated assemblages from the temple of Antoninus Pius (which preserves a fortification wall around it, most possibly dated to the Early Medieval and/or Middle Byzantine times) will shed more light on the fate of Sagalassos and the daily life of the remaining inhabitants during the Medieval era.

Another important factor to take into account is the absence of open tableware in the Apollo Klarios assemblage. This affects our interpretation of the ceramic material and the use of the site after the conversion of the ancient temple to a Christian basilica. Was the site a basilica church associated with a nearby settlement or not? Was it associated to a cemetery of the seventh-ninth and tenth-thirteenth centuries or is our ceramic assemblage simply associated with discards of a religious nature (e.g. religious festivals or panygireis on the occasion of festive Saints' days)? Does the absence of open tableware suggest that the very late (late sixth-mid seventh century) Sagalassos red-slip wares continued to be produced and used during the late seventh and eighth centuries?

These are aspects under consideration and further study. What is certain, however, is the fact that recently discovered ceramic evidence from Sagalassos most possibly points to continuity of life (on the basis of material traces dated to the Early Medieval and Middle Byzantine periods) and social organization (on the basis of evidence for the construction of fortification walls and the use of churches at special occasions). Meanwhile, the final identification of "local" and "imported" pottery of this period will provide further evidence for pottery production, ceramic workshop-organization and pottery circulation.

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